thoughts on education

I went to meet a student of mine, yesterday. It was a hot day, but quite pleasurable, sitting at an outside table at the café, in the shade of a wide umbrella. A gentle breeze wafted through the space. As is my habit, I came about a half an hour before the meeting, so as not to be late… and the time was well spent. With my little laptop at hand, I was able to continue my studies. And from time to time, I would lift my head, and watch the other patrons who’d chosen to sit outside.

afternoon in the café

Those in groups, chatted freely, and those who came by themselves enjoyed all kinds of private pleasures as they drank their ice coffees, beers, or ate ice cream. There were telephone conversations, and people who listened to music through ear phones, as well as a number of people who had computers with them, or phones that hooked up to the internet. Wifi was available free of charge.

children in the park

I was reading theories on education in the west. A strange read for someone like myself, who’s been a student all his life and a teacher as well. The emphasis seemed to be on the sympathy of the teacher towards the student; on the necessity to make the student feel loved and respected. It seems to me that this might be necessary for an incapacitated student… one who suffered from despair, or extreme psychological problems. But the students I have known did not search out teachers who would pet them, hug them, and make them feel good.

the life of students as a celebration

I believe, that in study, the student does the most of the work. At the very first stage, of course, he has to learn the basic tools; reading, writing, and arithmetic; the proper use of language, and the ability to research in the library. After that, the teacher provides direction, criticism, and checks to see that the student understands well that which he has learned. The teacher may also answer the occasional question. But since ancient times, it is well known that the question is more important than the answer. Learning is the work of the student, and a good student doesn’t wait for the entire class to move on, as do the sheep grazing in the field. Nor does he wait to be spoon fed. Enthusiastically, he devours the text, and checks out the bibliography at the back to find other points of view regarding that which he has now learned. He welcomes the exercises, because they challenge his ability to think, and to express himself in a clear crisp manner. And in his discussions with other students, he widens his understanding of the subject matter, and learns of other ways by which to reach similar results.

the sheep grazing in the field

In our culture, teachers are revered. But every student has a study partner, with whom he studies constantly… getting feedback as they compare notes and exercises. The business of study is not an emotional experience, but an intellectual accomplishment. I wonder, if athletics and sports are taught in the west according to the same ideals held as an example for intellectual studies. Are the football and baseball players given sympathy and compassion, as their teachers worry to insure the students’ confidence and emotional stability?

at the far end of the park

After enjoying a coffee together, and discussing the advantages of modern digital compact cameras, we took a walk through a nearby park. The children, free of the demands and obligations of school, were having a fine time on the grass. Young mothers with babies in their arms were enjoying the calm of the late afternoon. It was a beautiful summer day.


139 responses to “thoughts on education

  1. I find your observation of western education philosophy very interesting. Yep – The emphasis on student self-esteem has obvious. My sarcasm would come through when I would promote making students feel good about doing bad. Even better when I could make the case with a straight face, which in turn would stimulate discussion among those who didn’t really know me.

    However, here’s the most interesting point for me in this point – I know you are older than I, yet you are demonstrating that learning doesn’t stop – there is always something to learn … and that philosophy is probably universal.

    • Yes, those of us who have found the pleasure in learning and study, never wish to stop, and it fills our lives with an endless variety of tastes and pleasures, and keeps the mind active, and inspires communication with others on many levels. How sad it is that some students think that studying is nothing more than a passageway to a profession, or a means of passing tests… or a whole lot of other things that have nothing to do with learning. Those who know nothing of mountain climbing, might stop a climber half way up a mountain, and ask him, “how much do you get for a climb like this?”

      • is not pleasure an emotion? From what I have read, it seems learning makes you quite happy and satisfied. When you invest yourself in learning and become enlightened, that always brings with it emotion. I must disagree with you. learning is both an emotional and intellecual experience. We learn throughout our lives. We are educated throughout our lives, whether it primarily happens in school or outside of school. Life is an education. This education brings out certain emotions, whether good or bad. And indeed when you say, that some students think that studying is nothing more than a passageway to a profession or means of passing tests, that how education is here in the U.S. Its the fault of the system in place and the teachers and administrators who put grading and scoring of standardized tests above learning. Unfortunately, we as students, have to deal with that environment of anit-learning. I, myself love learning but I can’t stand school for this very reason even though I maintain good marks.

        • Hi there, Ephraim. Thank you for this very interesting question. You’re quite right. Learning makes me happy, and as such, it is an emotional experience for me personally. I am usually a happy person. So when I shine my shoes, or launder my dirty clothing, that makes me happy too. But I don’t judge the effectiveness of the shoeshine by the amount of happiness I derive from the action. An aware person learns all his life, as you say. But if I decide to repair my car myself, I have to learn some very specific things about mechanics. The process of learning will probably make me happy too. But if I try to go straight to the repair, intuitively, there is a great chance that I will damage the car further, and not be able to repair it. In the process of learning the subject correctly, I may have to sweat… may get into awkward positions… and may even make mistakes along the way which I will have to correct. These mistakes may cause me disappointment or frustration, but when I learn how to do the work, I’ll be happy. The test of my project, is how well the car will run; not how happy I will be in the process. I really do hope that you understand what I’m saying here.

  2. Beautiful and thought-provoking post Shimon…I fear that in the States, there is a diminishing reverence for teachers – most of it unjustified, some of it a result of a loss of passion for the art (a topic undoubtedly for another day). The Socratic method of instruction though – with emphasis on the question, the continuity of dialogue and the life long pursuit of knowledge – represent the essence of teaching, in my view. My best instructors were not those who coddled my ego, but stretched my intellectual parameters as wide as possible. The delighted in my interest and eagerness – reinforcing the life-long journey of learning and integrating thoughts and ideas.

    • Thank you Mimi. I had similar experiences to yourself, and still remember my teachers with love and gratitude. I don’t know about the diminished passion. But it seems to me that putting all the students in the same pot, and an over emphasis on the social aspects of education, and ‘democracy’ in the schools, has lead the profession astray. Learning is a very personal experience, and each individual is responsible for his own actions and choices. Aside from that, there are some general ills in society, that have found their way into the school system. The same lack of discipline and respect that we find in so many homes, is now reproduced in the class room. Of course, the truly gifted usually manage to learn and to grow in almost any circumstance.

      • I couldn’t agree more – the ‘truly gifted usually manage to learn and grow in almost any circumstance’..I can’t held but feel deep concern for those without those gifts..they get lost in a system that isn’t working for them (at least here in the States)

  3. It is great to have encouraging teachers, especially if you are not naturally rich in self-esteem. I had a few teachers who helped me a lot. They saw I had some talent and encouraged me to use it. In elementary school, one teacher urged me to try different writing forms including poetry, not something a 9-year old would normally attempt. In college, a philosophy professor cut me down to say by telling me I was all style and no content, and he was right. By the end of the term, I got — and deserved — a solid A. If not for him, I would never have found my career. As teachers, we have to find a balance — nurturing talent versus giving false praise.Lavish praise for work that doesn’t deserve it is just a lie that creates unrealistic expectations Nor do we want to punish a students who lack natural aptitude. I think we — teachers and student and at some point, all of us are both — have an obligation to learn our strengths and weaknesses, intellectually and otherwise. We are created equal, but we gifted variously.

    • I agree with you on most points, Marilyn, and am truly happy to hear of your positive experience in school. Unfortunately, the problem is not just one of teachers, or attitudes towards study, or the inadequacy of some students. The values of the society are reflected in the schools too. As the emphasis moved away from ‘community’ and focused on the individual, the student too became somewhat alienated from his fellow students, and from the task at hand. Many young people are so distracted by games and entertainment, that they find themselves incapable of applying themselves to study. They become used to passive experiences, and don’t even realize that learning is a pleasurable activity.

  4. Ah, Shimon at his tongue-in-cheek best! I agree. We are morons in the US. From John Dewey forward, the emphasis has not been on independent inquiry, investigation and thought, but on what I call mass indoctrination for the purpose of producing the sheep you describe here. In that regard, education in the US has been a roaring success.
    Your essay brings me to the question that I wanted to pose to you. I am astounded by the illogical statements that otherwise intelligent people make about such topics as politics and religion. I was struck by Noam Chomsky’s explanation of this phenomenon: “The indoctrination is so deep that educated people think they’re being objective.” Perhaps that explains how intelligent people can accept as fact that which has no basis in fact. Perhaps our ideologies and prejudices influence our perception of reality. This phenomenon has puzzled me for a very long time. I would very much like to hear your opinion.
    Thanks, George

    • I’m interested to know how do you figure that John Dewey is about mass indoctrination for the purpose of producing sheep. I have read a lot of John Dewey and he is all about critical inquiry, investigation, and thought.

      • Dewey’s desire to educate the masses was admirable. However, a pragmatic empiricism informed his concept of how to accomplish that goal. His approach to the acquisition of knowledge for the masses was based on a posteriori knowledge or justification dependent on experience or empirical evidence as opposed to a rational approach . He and the other progressives of early twentieth century social engineering were seeking to educate the laboring masses in order to produce a compliant, obedient society of “good citizens’. They were well-meaning members of the intellectual or political class who were charged with the impossible task of designing a system for a democratic republic. The idea was to educate the masses in order to produce a compliant, law-abiding citizenry. This system was designed to provide enough education to empower the citizenry to read newspapers, political and religious tracts and to ingrain in them what Dewey called the “spirit of service”. He and other progressives believed that rule by the people could work to the degree that the individual citizens “lifted heads and hearts to concern themselves with the common good”. Dewey’s public education was an experiment in social engineering.
        A shining example of the social engineering role of public education is the Texas textbook changes that revise significant portions of American history to include no longer teaching about Thomas Jefferson’s role as a founding intellectual who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and who wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He was removed because he was a deist who helped to pioneer the separation of church and state. Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson’s place is the Puritan theologian John Calvin with heavy emphasis to be placed on the founding fathers having been guided by strict Christian beliefs.

        • You say the goal of Dewey’s education of the masses was to produce a compliant, law-abiding citizenry. And that this compliancy equates to a spirit of service and working towards the common good. But those words have such a positive connotation and the word “indoctrination” has such a negative one. It implies no critical thinking and no scientific analysis but rather just mere following orders no matter how irrational or harmful they may be. In Dewey’s work “Need for a Philosophy of Education” he says that the primary aim of education needs to be social in nature for two reasons. First because of the rapid industrialization and technological advancement, and the resultant greed and competition for resources, “the school needs to make ceaseless and intelligently organized effort to develop above all else the will for cooperation and the spirit which sees in every other individual one who has an equal right to share in the cultural and material fruits of collective human invention. This aim is also necessary to prepare the coming generation for a new and more just and humane society, which unless hearts and minds are prepared by education, is likely to come attended with all the evils that result from social changes effected by violence.” This hardly sounds like indoctrination, because indoctrination like nazism and all the other poisonous ideologies out there would actually go against this type of aim for education for the reason that those ways of educating do not have the best interests of the human being in mind. Dewey was talkiing from thhe standpoint teaching for democracy, which inherently can not iinvolve indoctrination because in order to have a successful democracy you must critically thinking citizens who approach everyy public with respect and love for their fellow man.

    • Your question, George, is a very interesting one. I believe that we tend to give too much credit to intelligence. Intelligence can be a valuable tool and a great advantage to a student. But ultimately, each of us has to make his own choices, and these choices will determine his success in any field of endeavor. Not every one who is born with a large muscular body and fast reflexes becomes a star on the playing field. And often those who had to work the hardest are able to achieve more than the talented folks. In the case of political or religious choices, it is the heart and the soul that determines the path, and not one’s intelligence. And so, an intelligent person can make a fool of himself in love, or in drink, or in business… and those who know him, can only sigh… ‘what a waste of the potential’. And let me say that I have a great respect for the American society, and the intellectual accomplishments found in your country. We live in a time of fast paces changes, and I believe that the US will have to reconsider some of its social attitudes, but I have great hope for America. Thank you very much for your comment.

  5. As a teacher myself before I became ill Shimon, and more so probably since as things seem to be getting worse, I have despaired at the direction education has been taking in the UK. In academic pursuits, as well as in sport incidentally, the idea that we are all equal and should be treated as such is bizarre to the point that competitive sport has been banned in certain schools for fear of making those that do not excel, feel inadequate. It’s not about inadequacy, it’s about recognising that we all have different abilites and qualities. It’s about finding out what we are good at, not everyone pretending that we can all do everthing.
    The educationalists have gone as far as to ignore a universal truth, trying to pretend the bell curve normal distribution of ability doesn’t exist. They’ve progressively dumbed down examinations to the point where every year we are told that passes in the national examinations at grade A are at yet another record high. This doens’t help anybody. In the end we fail to give those at either end of the curve what they really need and the examinations are not worth a thing.
    One example of this phenomenon in the west can be seen in the opening rounds of the ubiquitous talent shows on TV. We see only too clearly then what a disservice we are doing young people by not being honest with them about their abilities. Tone deaf, grossly overweight, rather plain individuals take the stage convinced they can be the next Madonna and when these people are rejected by the judges, they are crushed. They can’t understand how this can be because nobody has been honest with them for fear of denting their delicate egos. It’s cruel.
    Thanks for your post Shimon. Your observations as ever, are spot on.

    • I do agree with you, Chillbrook, about this basic misunderstanding of democracy, that has given birth to a lot of unrealistic expectations. Even though we have gotten used to the noble idea that all men (and women) were created equal, this equality relates to basic human rights, the dignity of man, and other social issues. By contrast, trying to make everyone the same is an indignity to man. Each of us has certain gifts and certain limitations, and not everyone can be a star musician, an architect, or a brain surgeon. The most tragic aspect of modern society, is the arrival of a spoiled, pampered, or abused child at school. In such cases, psychology and social work take precedence over education. But they are dumped into the classroom, and the teacher is supposed to deal with these social problems. Such a situation is damaging to teachers and students alike. And if the society doesn’t begin to deal with the problem, the entire school system will go bankrupt. Thank you very much for your comment, and my best wishes for your good health.

  6. It is sad that, for the most part, teachers are not respected by students in my part of the world. It is made worse by the fact that parents do not respect their children’s teachers either. Of course, this is a generalization, there are students and parents who do have proper respect. It is harder to see them because they are being–well–respectful.

    • It’s very sad, Patricia. And ultimately, the society as a whole will have to pay the price. But it is not just that. The teachers are expected to perform miracles. They are asked to repair the damage cause by a poor upbringing of many of the children. Discipline of any sort is frowned upon, and it is becoming ever harder to induce these students to learn anything. Though the public schools were designed to even the playing field, they might soon become irrelevant, and the poor and disenfranchised will suffer the most.

  7. Albert Einstein once said; “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Much has been said about the role of teachers in the ever-transforming educational models today. Yet, so little to address the role of the student.
    I very much agree with your statement – “But since ancient times, it is well known that the question is more important than the answer.” In my opinion,
    questions reveal a lot more about a person than his answers. The answers are there. It is the right question that leads to understanding.
    And that I think is where the decline of study and the stunting of one’s worldview stem from as well. Being a student essentially means one is on a path of learning. Learning essentially means there are areas yet unchartered.
    It seems to me that an admission to one’s lack of knowledge seems tantamount to standing alone in public stark naked. And so despising such vulnerablities, most have stopped being a student from fear of challenging the status quo of their own existence, fear of being proven wrong. Life becomes a farce. An act.
    Just as the teacher prepares for his lesson, the student prepares for his lesson. Pride and prejudice – the dual foes of truth and learning. At the core of it, to truly learn, sometime one must be ready to unlearn. Then is one a student ready to ask. Ready to receive.
    So education or what is considered as education in our modern world today is relegated to not so much as learning in the holistic sense but a centre set up to churn out individuals with a set of short term and narrow goals in mind. The spark of truth and understanding many times come from the clashes of differing opinions which a well-trained mind, a rational mind is able to perceive light without succumbing to the sway of emotions. And that every good, conscientious student must need to learn.
    Thank you dear Shimon for your observations which so accurately touch on yet another aspect of life which deserves acute attention. Sharon

    • Learning has been for me, and for many others, one of the most pleasurable activities in life. How terribly sad it is that the school has become a jail for many, and a baby sitting institutions for others, keeping the young out of the streets and not much more. I so agree with you, that pride and prejudice are the foes of learning. But I am not sure that we really have to unlearn anything. Bu continuously gaining in knowledge and understanding, we are often able to see past the prejudices and preconceptions that they grew up with. Thank you so much for your comment, Sharon. I can feel your passion, and it is familiar.

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  9. It is a shame that all of you are true in your statements about education here in the States. It’s lacking and not because teachers don’t do their best, but because others aren’t making doing their best. If I, as a parent, fail to teach my children proper respect for study and intelligence, I cannot blame the teacher when my child fails a test. If I, as a member of society, vote to pass laws which require students to pass standardized tests, I cannot blame the teacher for lack of creativity in the classroom, particularly when his or her job depends on my child passing this “standard” test. The teachers I remember most were the ones that challenged and inspired us. The English teacher who led the study on Film Noir. Yes, the movie days were great, but the books were things we never would have read otherwise. I’ve read “The Postman Always Rings Twice” because Mr. Scott was a wonderful English teacher. When teachers are allowed to incorporate many different learning styles, more students have a chance at success. Unfortunately, these days it’s all about passing the next test. It’s a shame, a true shame, because I know kids like my daughter (who has autism), though extremely smart and quite talented in math, will most likely never be able to pass those timed, bubble filled tests. smh

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Rainshadow. Personally, I don’t think the tests are a bad thing. They are part of the learning experience, and unfortunately, many students come to school without much interest in learning, and with no self discipline. In real life, there are tests all the time. And we don’t get warned a week or two in advance that we’re going to have a test, or on what subject. And if we’re not prepared, we suffer. I’m sorry to hear that your daughter has autism. I believe that people with special difficulties should be given help to find their way and manage in society, as best as is possible. I think it’s in all of our interests that they succeed and enjoy their lives. But that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to take the same path as everyone else. We have to learn to deal with different people according to their capacities and accept their differences.

      • I don’t particularly believe tests in and of themselves are bad. They are a measure by which we gauge the ability of the students to gather, learn, and recite the information on a given topic. My grief is with “standardized testing”. These all important tests have become the end all to whether a student passes a class and, in some cases, is solely responsible for determining whether or not a student passes that grade. These are the tests I have a problem with. Every student in the same grade is given the exact same test and 45 minutes to complete it. Not every child can handle that pressure and these tests are starting as early as third grade. Can a seven or eight year old child really handle the pressure of “pass the test or repeat third grade”? And now a lot of teachers jobs, in some areas, are retained by the number of students who pass these unforgiving tests. What kind of pressure does that set up for both student and teacher? The teacher must now set up a curriculum to guarantee their students pass a single test, not necessarily learn the material, and students are responsible for their teacher having a job next year. These standardized tests are so flawed that in some parts of Florida nearly 70% are failing these tests but would have passed the class/grade if not for that test. It’s sad that young people are failing an entire grade or have to retake a class because of the score on a single standardized test.

        Don’t be sorry for my daughter having autism. She’s still breathing, she still smiles, she’s just like any other little girl. We all have bad days, her’s are just a little more rough than other peoples. My fear for her is the timing of these “Standardized Tests”, assuming she has the fine motor skills developed enough to fill in the bubbles correctly on the answer sheet. They give these children 45 minutes to complete the test. This is fine for most kids, but for people with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, like my daughter and myself, it can be a hard time when there is a time limit is involved. My daughter focuses so much on the clock that she becomes unable to do anything else. This is a problem because, as of now, she is in a mainstreamed classroom without additional assistance. She’s six years old. She got into school early and will be in second grade this year, meaning next year, at barely seven years old, her teachers job will depend on my daughter’s ability to NOT stare at the clock for 45 minutes… That’s hardly fair to anybody.

        • I am not an American, nor am I familiar with this standard test. It seems to me that if 70% of the students are failing a test, that should be indication enough to re-examine the teaching system, and the tests both. Moreover, if because of a recognized handicap, a student stares compulsively at the clock, there is no doubt that she should get special attention. This might mean transferring her to a special school for the handicapped. It is very difficult for me to judge such a situation without knowing all the facts, but I’m sure a solution can be found.

          • I appreciate your response, but my daughter is NOT handicapped. She has autism. There is a difference. Education is a big problem here in the States and these standard tests were started as part of an initiative to ensure that children with special needs weren’t falling behind their neurotypical counterparts. However, now they are used to determine whether any child pass a grade, regardless of what the students grade in the class was before the test. For instance, they stop giving these tests in the 10th grade, with two more grades of high school left. If you don’t pass the test in 10th grade, you can make it up in each of the remaining two grades. However, if you passed the test the first time, you are taking the same classes as the kids who didn’t pass. These classes are designed and taught so that students will pass. What is the point of the last two years old high school for students who passed the test the first time?

  10. It’s strange how some teachers are respected and some aren’t. Your post got me questioning why I respected a few teachers but not the others, and there were some I respected but didn’t like. It must be a tough world being a teacher, when the students don’t appreciate you, parents pressure you and the government dictates you.
    Teachers deserve more recognition rather than the stereotypical reactions as the media/people focus on their holidays, or pensions, and not on the impact they have on the nation.

    • Teachers are human beings too. Some are more clever than others. Some have charisma. Some feel a sense of purpose; a strong commitment to their role in society, while others see it just as a job. But since they are working for the welfare of society, we have the obligation to show them a minimum of respect. Just as we can’t decide on our own, which policeman to respect, and which to mock, the same is true for teachers. Even when we go to a doctor, we might have good luck, and get a doctor who got straight A’s through school, or have bad luck, and get one of those who barely got by. But a good student gives respect to all teachers and to his fellow students as well. I agree with you that the petty jealousies regarding vacations and work conditions are pathetic. But that’s a long story that I may tackle some other time.

  11. It seems the educational system, at least in my limited experience, bases it’s entire grading system on an individual’s interest in the subject, and also memory. There seem to be no classes that encourage creativity asides from the arts. Instead of instructing us on the known sciences of Biology, why not give students the opportunity to create? Assign them to develop a theory against evolution or something? And no, I don’t have anything against evolution, in fact, I strongly believe in it, however I found it to be a subject that an individual could widely speculate on. It seems the educational systems today are on an ongoing and likely perpetual mission to turn creative children into skeptical adults with limited creativity horizons.

    • Hi there Shlunka. As a serious student all my life, and a college professor for some of it, I believe that it is correct to give grades according to these standards; interest and memory. Creativity, innovation, humor and art can be great additions to almost any study, but without the student equipping himself with a deep background in the area he is studying, he will not be able to contribute much. With every generation, the field of knowledge is getting wider. As a result, there is more specialization… and this, unfortunately, leads to a loss of vision, of the whole picture. Our best tool in the face of this immense quality of knowledge is memory. And the ability to remember bits of information, and to integrate what we’ve learned into a greater body of knowledge, is the most valuable skill we learn in school. Even in the arts, most of the time is spent learning valuable methods… tools of expressing art, and the emphasis is not on creating art. That comes later. It is important to realize that the school prepares you with the tools for your profession or calling in life… it’s not meant just to be a fun experience.

    • I wish outcomes based education would be looked at thoroughly..It’s about a student showing the teacher they understand in any way they can and not just through parrot fashion writing and memory!!

      • If I were to ask you what 6+9 is, you would answer me 15. If I asked you to write it down, you would write it down. If I asked you to mark one of four possibilities, you would mark the right box. That’s what tests are all about. To know whether you know the material. They’re not a game. The teacher or the board of education doesn’t want to trick you. They just want to know if you’ve learned the subject.

        • I read a comment where someone complained about what is called the proficiency test in US public schools.

          In California, there are two tests. I suspect these tests exist in all states today or at least most of them.

          One is the standardized test that is used for a number of functions such as measuring each school’s standing in the state compared to similar schools and if students are showing improvement over the previous year — no matter what the results, this test has nothing to do with a student graduating from high school.

          However, California also has a series of tests that demonstrate if students are proficient in key subject areas such as English, writing and math or they do not graduate. Each state has its own proficiency test and sets the bar for each test. For example, in Texas proficiency might be considered fourth or fifth grade but in California proficiency might be ninth grade (not 12th). I’ve read that Texas has the lowest proficiency level in the country and California the highest.

          What does this mean? In California, high school students must demonstrate that they read, write and do math (etc.) at a ninth grade level by the time they reach the end of the 12th grade year or they do not graduate. It does not matter that they came every day K to 12. The student is actually held responsible to learn up to a certain level such as ninth grade—not to the twelfth grade skill level.

          Students are allowed to take the proficiency tests many times while in high school–not just in tenth grade. Tenth grade is where students take the test for the first time.

          In fact, students that do not demonstrate proficiency may even go to summer school and take classes to help them boost their skills and knowledge in the areas that he or she did not pass, and then take the test again at the end of summer school. The summer before the senior year, third-year students that have not passed one or more of these tests are guaranteed a seat in one of these summer school classes—I know all about these classes because I taught the class for English in the summers for students that had not passed the proficiency test in English by the end of the junior year. Then during the senior year, students that are not proficient may take night classes to reach proficiency and take the test more than once that year.

          The reason for the proficiency test came about due to this—a few decades ago a high school student graduated from high school in California and went on to college. Because he was great in football, he had a scholarship and his college coaches found students to do his academic work for him. This person graduated from college and was drafted into a professional football team but before his first year in the pros ended, he was injured and could not play anymore. His contract was dropped but he did have a college degree, didn’t he?

          When he went looking for a job in the real world that fit the college degree he was “given” (not earned), he could not even fill out employment applications because he was illiterate. He ended up suing the state of California for graduating him from high school and college even though he was illiterate. He won more than $10 million dollars from the public school district and college that graduated him. To the jury, it did not matter that he knew other students were doing the work for him so he could keep playing football–he was a great football player but not so good academically.

          After the results of that court case, schools in California (and across the United States) implemented proficiency exams as a hurdle to graduation. Early on, students that do not pass these proficiency exams are given extra help with tutors and/or teachers that work with them after school and in the summers. When a student demonstrates that he or she has met proficiency in English but not in Math, that student then only has to work on his math skills. Once proficiency has been demonstrated in one or more of the subject areas, students do not have to take the tests for those areas again.

          Proficiency tests are standardized by the state of California not to trick students but as a way for each student to demonstrate that he can read an essay, poem, and short story and understand what these pieces mean. For math, the student must demonstrate that he is capable of correctly completing mostly basic math problems in addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication along with other areas of basic math. Students must also demonstrate that they can write a three paragraph essay properly. These essays seldom run longer than one page.

          Even after all of these chances starting in 10th grade, a few parents that seldom played any role in a child’s education appear near graduation at the end of 12th grade and threaten to go to court if his or her child is not allowed to graduate. They never win because in California, there is already a law that governs what happens. Many times, this is the first time the parent stepped foot on any public school campus. These parents are only interested in the photo op of their child in his or her graduation gown during graduation and to them the high school degree is more important than the child learning something.

          • Thank you so much for your explanation, Lloyd. It makes a lot more sense now, even though the schooling system seems a little surrealistic. It has been a great pleasure for me to meet you through this blog post, and I am sure that we will get to know one another better in the future. I have great admiration for your successes in the light of the difficult conditions. And I’m sure that your students appreciated you, and still appreciate you. Thanks for your contribution to this discussion here.

        • Often multiple choice tests are not a satisfactory way of gauging how much a student has learned. I have aced many a multiple choice test, where I did not have to study much and when I got done with the test I could not give you five coherent sentences about the subject such as saaay anatomy and physiology or pathophysiology, because I only studied bits and pieces of information out of a 40 or 50 page chapter in order to prepare for the test and that’s all that is necessary. A forty question test on 50 pages of information could never gauge anyone’s knowledge. The numbers just don’t add up. The multiple choice test is the easy way out for teachers, because it is easy to grade and they know it.

          • What you say is partially true about multiple-choice tests and while I was teaching there were a few (not many) teachers that focused on such tests so they had more time outside of the classroom to have a life—these teachers were test junkies using many short quizzes to see if students read the work and studied. I’d say this is more prevalent in classes such as history. Some history teachers will also used films as a way to fill up class time and keep the room under control. For some reason, if a TV or film is on, most students seem to go into a trance. We had one or two history teachers that did that at the high school where I taught.

            There are always going to be poor teachers that take short cuts or just cannot teach. Out of curiosity, I asked our daughter, after she graduated from high school, how many incompetent/poor teachers that she had K-12 that did not challenge the students. She must have had at least 50 – 60 teachers total during those thirteen years. She spent a few minutes thinking about it and then said “two”. I suspect this is true in most cases. The reason I saw that is because most people that go into teaching are there because they want to be not because they have to be there. Becoming a teacher isn’t the same as selling cars or waiting tables. Teachers have to spend four or five years in college and the job is challenging every day because teachers work with people and not assembly lines. Teachers have desks but few of them are planted behind those desk every hour they are in the classroom as many Hollywood movies depict. In fact, I was on my feet moving so much in the classroom that after I retired from teaching, I gained about 8 pounds because I slowed down.

            In addition, in California, even the standardized multiple choice proficiency exams included an essay where students were required to demonstrate they could write one, but these essays are not graded by the student’s teacher or even at the school the students attend. Those essays are given ID numbers and sent off to another region in the state where they are graded by other teachers or college graduate students paid $10 an hour to gather in large groups, be trained to use a rubric and then spend days working in teams grading hundreds of essays with at last three graders for each one and a supervisor to provide a grade for essays a team cannot agree on. The state asks for volunteers to grade these essays usually in the summer and I went twice. We had no idea where the essays came from or who wrote them. All we had was a number at the top of each essay.

            In English or math, it is difficult to get away with only using multiple choice tests and the difference in the time needed to correct two hundred essays or book reports compared to a multiple choice test is HUGE. With a Scan-Tron, the test is corrected in minutes and then maybe an hour or two to write the grades into a grade book while editing essays or book reports may take hundreds of hours over a period of weeks for just one assignment and that explains why I graded papers at staff meetings, while I ate lunch, at home during dinner and I often fell asleep at my desk late at night hours after the family had all gone to bed. In fact, I always carried around some papers with me. If I had a doctor or dentist appointment, I took papers with me and a clip board and graded papers in the waiting room. I am so glad that life is behind me. For example, when we took our daughter to her ballet lessons twice a week in the evenings and weekends, I sat in the car grading papers. If I finished, I went inside to join my wife where parents were allowed to watch the children practice. When our daughter competed at judged competitions in ballet, I took papers with me and was grading while the ballet students were competing on stage. When she came on, I’d put the papers down and watch and the minute she was done, I went back to correcting. The number of hours most English teachers spent correcting at the high school where I worked at was a common topic of discussion because that was most of our life outside of the classroom. I recall only one or two slacker teachers in the English department that did not work this hard.

            For math, the good (most of them) teachers require students to show their work and have an answer column so the teacher may see if they are copying the answers or actually doing the work correct. There is no need to check every problem. The math teacher may correct the answer column and then check a random sampling of the work to see if the student understands it.

            When I was a teacher I assigned a monthly book report and had the students write essays after every short story. For Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, there was an essay after every act that focused on elements of characterization, theme and conflict.

            I’m biased though. I always felt strongly that multiple choice tests were unfair because everyone is not equal when it comes to memory and fact retention. Multiple choice tests may test for understanding but they also draw a line between the student with a great memory and one that isn’t so great. For that reason, all tests and quizzes given in my classroom were only weighted at 10% of the grade and that was mostly from the final exam that I graded on a curve from the highest grade or second highest grade. The other 90% of the grade was from the classwork (55%) and homework (35%). The final exam also came with an extra credit essay where the student had three choices and was allowed to pick one to write on. What I found revealing was that the only students that wrote an extra-credit essay in the final exam were students already earning an A. Students that were on the border between a FAILING grade and a D- never wrote one and often failed. Often, the failing students would finish a two hour multiple choice final exam in five minutes and the test was open book with a study sheet that provided the page numbers for the stories the questions focused on—the study guide for the final was handed out two weeks before the final.

  12. Shimonz, in the US it is very important to find a common platform for the teacher to communicate to the student and vice versa. This is to compensate for the oftentime lack of familial and social support for a myriad of reasons. I think the empathy you are reading about is the struggle and sometimes misguidedness to find this platform out. This communication does not come easy. Occasionally there are exceptional platforms for two-way communication found out like the book and movie, Freedom Writers. But the exception is not common. The lesson here in the west for teachers is this platform is not going to come easy the majority of time. It will take hard work, creativity, sacrifice and commitment even when it happens by chance. This is the lot of any occupation if one wants to excel at it. – Daniel Lang

    • Hi there Daniel. Glad to meet you. I don’t know all that much about the US today. I did spend some time there, almost fifty years ago, and I taught exchange students who came to my country at the college level, thus having an opportunity to repay a heartfelt debt for what I learned in your country. I’ve never heard of Freedom Writers, but I’ll try to find the book. But I do recognize the difference between handicapped students, and those who have the capacity to study. I believe that the motivation and the hard work has to come from the student. Regardless of other problems and background, if the student is not keenly motivated to study, there is no point in his going to school. The teacher, no matter how good, won’t be able to do it for him. The creativity, sacrifice and commitment that you mention have to come foremost from the student. We ask a lot from our teachers. I myself have taught teachers. And perhaps I will write another post on how we see that profession. But the teacher can’t do the work of the student.

      • Shimonz, the platform the teacher found to communicate to her students was Shoah, or should I say the platform that found her out.

  13. Great thoughts on education! Glad I found this on Freshly Pressed.

  14. What a thought-provoking blog. I am a high school teacher in the US and I struggle with a lot of these issues you mention. Teaching is definitely a craft / an art for certain. I do not feel many recognize this aspect of teaching, and unfortunately politicians, parents, administrators and others feel they have authority to denounce teaching and instead are wanting indoctrination and instant results at the push of a computer button it seems. I strive to ignite curiosity in my students and love when the question not only the content at hand, but dig deeper and try to search for how theses questions and ideas affect them and influence themselves and the world. It’s a real sign of growth that no test score could ever measure. Thank you for this post. I will keep these thoughts in mind as I prepare to start another school year in a few weeks.

    • It is a pleasure to meet you Megan. Having recently read some literature on ‘modern’ education in America, it’s my impression that the teachers are in a very difficult position. When it works well, teaching can be as exciting and invigorating as sports or the arts. I used to feel elated after hours of teaching, and usually, I had learned quite a bit too. But these very positive feeling are dependent on the partnership between teacher and students; on the love of learning, and the adventure of intellectual challenges. It is a completely different story when the teacher has to give emotional first aid to his or her students, and psychological treatment as well. It seems to me, after what I’ve read recently, that many in education have lost sight of the essence. I hope I’m wrong. But that’s my impression. My best wishes to you for a very fruitful and enjoyable new school year.

      • Isn’t it possible though to help a student have emotional and intellectual growth through study. As a teacher, guide them to relate their own lives to what they are studying, especially if it is a literature class. I am a college student and I can attest to the fact that you ccan do well in a a class, and get good marks. But that doesn’t mean you learned anything. I can only think ever of three classes where I really learned something valuable, and what I learned was mostly about myself and who I am as a person and what interests me. Those were two introductory religion classes and a philosophy of education class, the latter which truly changed my life and had I not taken it with the particular professor I had, I would probably still be a dispassionate student preparing to go to medical school for no reason other than doctors make a good living. For me that class was an emotional investment. When the class was over, I sat in my car and cried, because I realized what a turning point that this professor’s level of caring had been in my life. He cared so much. He was so passionate but also level-headed and a great listener of his students. He was a reformer, a guy who challennged the status quo, challenged our ways of thinking about how we, as American students, had been “educated” up to that point. And he did it for the sake of opening our minds to the injustices and absurdities of the American educational system. We would read the works of many educational philosophers, who I sadly must say have been largely ignored, and dissect there pedagogies. We would ask one question for each one, “What educational system would this person see as ideal?” Then we would relate our answers to the American educational system and what we had so far experienced as students. No multiple choice tests or quizzes asking us to memorize what this philosopher said or what that philosopher believed, because that would have been pointless. Pure memorization is pointless in a class like that, if it does not make you think about your present world and how it could potentially change for the better. And that was exactly what we did in every class It was just a lot of reading and a lot of discussion, and one paper at the end, in which we were asked “What would be the goals, objectives, and methods of your ideal educational system.” And that was what we did Every class, hearing about my peer’s experiences and lives as they related to education was so enlightening. Dare I say….new conceptions were formed, previous conceptions were thrown out the window, light was cast in a field of darkness. We learned and grew from each other. It was an emotional experience as well as intellectual, not because we were being coddled or anything. But because the teacher and the student were at the same level in terms of respect and mutual learning. On the last day, he actually asked us in what ways he could alter his methods and pedagogy to make the class more conducive to affective learning. On the last day, he said he learned a lot from us. Could I ever imagine that? A teacher who not only learns from his students, but acknowledges and thanks them for it. A teacher who actually cares about his student’s opinions about the way he or she is teaching??? I had never encountered that before…a teacher who approaches his practice like a surgeon approaches his patient but also with attention to student concerns. It was beautiful. It was emotional. It was intellectual. It was all those things. I got an A in that class, but I could not cared less about that letter grade once it was over. Neither could he, and he told all of us. I began to realize how subjective and absurd letter grading is, in a class like that. I became more self-aware. I became more open-minded, a better critical thinker, a better human being. None of those things reflected in a letter grade, but just in my experience. I have teachers who could care less. I have had teachers who were the laziest people on earth, who, if a supervisor was in class everyday, I hope would be fired based on an evaluation of their performance. I am not demonizing teachers here. But I am saying that there are not high enough standards for getting and staying in the teaching profession, and those standards should have nothing to do with standardized test scores as has been the case for the last 12-15 years in America.

        Some quotes from my favorite educational philosopher John Dewey:

        “In critical moments we all realize that the only discipline that stands by us, the only training that becomes intuition, is that got through life itself. That we learn from experience, and from books or the sayings of others only as they are related to experience, are not mere phrases.“

        “But the school has been so set apart, so isolated from the ordinary conditions and motives of life, that the place where children are sent for discipline is the one place in the world where it is most difficult to get experience– the mother of all discipline worth the name.”

        The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass in to selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.“

        “Where the school work consists in simply learning lessons, mutual assistance, instead of being the most natural form of cooperation and association becomes a clandestine effort to relieve one’s neighbor of his proper duties.”

        • Hi there Reflective Thinking. Certainly it’s possible, as you yourself have described. The real objective in schooling, though, is to provide the student with the tools to learn and to express himself or herself. If a person is interested in learning and growing, he or she will find many opportunities. I am very pleased that you have shared with us such a moving description of your relationship to one of your teachers. I can only join you in your praise for him. I don’t care to defend ‘learning by hear’, but I do think there an advantage for an educated person to learn spelling and grammar, and a quick look at the internet will demonstrate that many don’t know the difference between to, too, and two. What the tests were meant to do, was to verify that the student has learned the basics. I would seriously recommend that you read Lloyd’s comment to me above:
          I believe he is telling it like it is. Among teachers, as among doctors, there are those who go through school getting straight A’s, and those who barely get by, but manage. Regardless of which teachers you get, you can keep on learning all your life, as long as you have the basics. But without them, a person might have trouble finding work.

          I come from a different people, a different culture; but we have traditions of study and learning that have gone on for literally thousands of years. When I was a student, I had great respect for my teachers. We would show our respect, and would never have idle conversations, or play games while he was trying to teach. If a student wasn’t motivated to study, he had to find another school or go to work. My colleagues and I did well in the workplace, and we still regard our teachers with reverence. I had many emotional moments, but that was my private affair. I certainly didn’t expect my teachers to supply them. It is interesting to learn about your system, and I see what you have written here as evidence that there are some very positive experiences in the American educational system as well. Thank you for your comment.

          • I definitely think the basics are a necessity but those basics can not be the end in themselves, I learned. And obviously learning is about much more than the basics in arithmetic and spelling and grammar where mastery occurs relatively early. It is clear that our experiences and cultures inform our opinions and I respect that. A teacher for me is like any other human being. Respect is earned. Teachers earn the respect of their students. Also, I have realized that you have to judge each class and classroom as a different experience. My experience with that professor does not reflect on the American educational system as a whole, which I think and almost everyone else in America would agree is in tatters. It reflects on that group of students and that teacher that comprised that classroom and their ability to form a cohesive educational unit. He was very much the antithesis to our educational system and taught us to challenge and question it, reflectively and scientifically of course. Emotional moments are not really planned or supplied in the educational setting. They just happen. They materialize when student and teacher are truly transformed by each other. And that, so far, has been my best learning experience and I will never forget it. And expression in the educational setting is indeed part of emotional development. Its not planned. It just happens…. Its quite amazing the discussion you have initiated with this post and I really appreciate it. Learning about education in different cultures is enlightening.

  15. Freshly Pressed Shimon 🙂 and I knew you way back when….

  16. Education in the United States has evolved to the point that when a student is not learning, everyone blames the teacher. Parenting, self-motivation and a desire to learn are never seen as the problem – teachers are expected to over-come all of these obstacles and when we don’t…Respect of teachers has been lost. My mother learned that she was not to speak badly about a teacher or her grandfather would punish her. My brother and I learned that we could ask questions, especially when teachers were inconsistent, but that we were to be respectful and polite. Today, in the United States, students walk out of classrooms when they don’t like what the teacher says (no texting in class, etc.) and rather than put the blame where it belongs (on the student), teachers need to “make peace” so that the student returns to the classroom. It is a sad state of affairs.
    I became a teacher because of my great interest in learning and my desire to help guide students to their own discoveries. However, the education system in the United States has resulted in students not learning to think and discover on their own. It is a shame. I work with students who have Learning Disabilities (mild. to moderate) and I consider that I’ve done my job when they are interested in a novel and don’t want to put it down or they ask for other literature that is similar to a book we have read in class. However, I rarely see the joy in their learning. I honestly wish it was different.

    • Robin, the ultimate responsibility falls on leadership. Teachers only work within the system given to them by leadership.

    • Hi there, Robin. I’ve really no experience teaching students with learning disabilities, but I do believe that these are very different circumstances. It seems to me that this enthusiasm to ‘blame the teachers’ stems from a resistance to the fact that the society on the whole is not providing an environment that is friendly to study and learning. There was a time when only the gifted students went on to higher education. Others went to a trade school, or were apprentices at the work place. Now in the spirit of democracy, we are trying to offer the same opportunity to all. But we have to be careful not to ruin the very institutions that were meant to further education. Thank you for your comment.

  17. A very insightful article on education that I would never have found if it wasn’t freshly pressed and so many well considered responses! I am an ex Deputy Head teacher in Scotland although now I tutor privately. I have read the responses with great interest. I belive that Chillbrook has already stated many of the problems with the school system in the UK. I left mainstream school in 1999 and launched a tutoring company in Scotland. I am a teacher and am passionate about education and teaching children but felt that I couldn’t teach children the way I knew that they should be taught. We now have 28 centres in Scotland (all fully qualified teacher like myself) and we provide extra tuition in maths and english for those who are falling behind. My point is that in recent years I am finding that when assessing children in the key subjects of English and maths, the levels attained by students seem to be declining every year. The Scottish Government have introduced Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland which on paper should have been wonderful. Actually it is causing major headaches for teachers and schools trying to scramble to get ready for new exams which in some cases mean no more than “a pat on the head” from the teacher. The Government have had to invest millions more and still our teachers are concerned. It is a very worrying time for teachers and parents alike as the students in primary seven upwards are basically guinea pigs for this new radical exam system. They will certainly be well rounded individuals learning in a new and exciting way that will benefit some students but I am finding that in particular numeracy skills are falling drastically in students. Only time will tell and I hope it proves me wrong!

    • I’m glad that you found me, and glad to meet you too. Your project sounds very interesting, and I suspect it’s a forecast of what’s to come. Because if the standard schools are unable to deal with the problem, alternative institutions will be developed. Your description of this new curriculum reminds me of an experiment that was tried many years ago, called ‘new math’. In principle, it was quite good. It encouraged the student to see math in a slightly more abstract way, and shake him loose of automatic thinking. Unfortunately, from what I read, the real problem we are facing, is not the inadequacy of the curriculum, but the lack of discipline and good study habits. And no changes on the part of the schools or teachers will be able to cure the problem. There has to be a reassessment of the nature of study on the part of society and the parents involved. Thank you very much for your comment.

  18. Very good article. It gave me great pleasure to go through it.

  19. I really like your essay. I am actually studying to become an educator and it is very insightful to read this.
    My professor says that the keyword in education nowadays is “facilitator”. The teacher as the facilitator in the classroom. With the booming advancement in technology, information to the students is readily available. Thus, as teachers, we must verify the information they get. We must critically analyze the information the kids get. Yes they are all so excited to learn, only how much of those knowledge are the truth? 😀

    • When I was a young student, beginning in higher education, my teachers used to say, we are here to teach you how to learn. The information is secondary. What is important is the systematic approach to knowledge, and the ability to work independently; to find that which is important, and that which isn’t, and to understand large bodies of information relevant to your work. I don’t think it makes much difference if we read from books, or on a computer screen. I have studied manuscripts that were hand copied over a thousand years ago. The technology hasn’t really changed the process of learning. There is no machine that can induce knowledge directly into the brain. For that we still have to use our heads. And the most important work, is that of the student.

  20. I am a believer in Waldorf education where the classes and the teachers become a community and everyone respects each other (most of the time 🙂 of course there will be the occasional disagreement). I like the fact that my daughter was taught Hebrew in grade 3 along with art, math, music, English, Chinese, crocheting, and so on and that she will be taught world religions, etc. in the junior high grades. Waldorf has a philosophy of teaching children to have a love of life long learning and to be engaged with life through their heart, hands, and mind. It’s truly one of the many beautiful ways to learn.

    Namaste and many blessings***

    • I haven’t heard of Waldorf education till now, and will try to dig up some information on it in the very near future. It sounds good. Not to speak of the fact that I am always encouraged by hearing of young people who study Hebrew, as we Hebrew speakers are a very small minority in this great big world.. What you’re telling me here sounds wonderful, and I am happy to hear that your daughter is enjoying such an education. It is a pleasure to meet you, Cory, and I look forward to checking out your blog.

  21. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Looking at the public education system in the United States from the outside and making lots of sense.

  22. Since the 1960s, inflating a child’s (and student’s) self-esteem with praise and promising him or her that dreams come true while having fun every day is running the United States six-feet under.

    I taught in the public school in California for thirty years and once we were told in a staff meeting to stop using red ink to correct student work and try green because it would make the students feel better. I went out that night and bought fifty red ink pens.

    Some parents worry that if his or her child “earns” a low grade that it will damage the child’s self-esteem so those parents often demand the child be transferred to a teacher that only “gives” students A’s and B’s. I lost a few students every year to those types of parents.

    Then when the children perform poorly on standardized tests used to measure academic growth, everyone blames the teachers (except the teachers) and this has been going on for decades in the US, which may explain, in part, why half of all new teachers quit within three to five years and never return to education.

    Try giving an assignment that is a challenge and count the complaints from parents.

    Maybe this is why we have lone-wolf killers shooting people in movie theaters, high schools and colleges. Since the 1970s, almost 3,000 people have been killed in shoot outs like these.

    Eventually, many of these children grow up and realize that everything they were told was a lie.

    • Hi Lloyd. Very pleased to meet you. And I’m glad that I didn’t have to face that test of changing my corrections from red to green, because I think instead of going out and buying fifty red pens, I would have bought a bottle of scotch and drowned myself in sorrow. But seriously, this anecdote really points to the problem. I can’t help wondering if such people (who gave you that ridiculous advice) would want to be operated on by a surgeon who had learned his profession in such schools… or would want to fly in a plane that had been engineered by someone who was a graduate of their school. They must have been very detached from reality. I didn’t know about the statistics that you mention regarding shootings. But I do get the impression that there is a social problem that is threatening the welfare of the modern western society. And it seems to me that the schools are just one aspect of this problem. When I see movies and art from America, I often wonder how bad it’ll get before the pendulum starts swinging in the opposite direction. Thank you very much for you comment, and I look forward to getting to know you better.

  23. there is a chinese saying that goes “when a student is ready, the teacher appears”. One can learn in any circumstances, and from anyone, if only one is open and willing to learn. Hence, the onus has to be on the student, although the teacher can try to motivate those who are less academically-inclined by demonstrating the benefits of gaining knowledge.

    • Thank you very much, Nic. I like that Chinese saying, and I think it’s true. One of our greatest poets said, “I have learned from everyone willing to teach me,” which is along the same line. The height of the learning experience is with the student. It is a pleasure to meet you.

    • Nic,

      My wife is Chinese (grew up in Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution–She arrived in the US in 1986 and is now a US citizen) and we raised our daughter this way. I told our daughter when she was a child in 3rd grade that it didn’t matter if a teacher was excellent or poor at his or her job—a motivated student will still learn and it was her responsibility to learn—not the teacher’s job to motivate her to learn, but many parents in America believe it is the teachers responsibility for every aspect of a child’s education and the parents’ job ends when the child turns six years old and starts school.

      As a result, our daughter is starting her third year at Stanford (a private American university that accepts students from all over the US and the world, and she is now among students that were raised more as she was—you do not find many slackers at Stanford). However, it wasn’t always easy for her to be a good student. She often raised her hands, did all of her homework and any extra assignments and earned straight A’s from third grade to high school graduation but in middle and high school other students told her to stop because she was causing the grade curve to be higher and more of them would fail. In middle school, one boy threatened to kill her if she kept raising her hand to ask questions because it made the rest of them look bad. The boy was caught by one of her teachers and expelled from that school but for her own safety, we sold our house and moved to a higher-rated school in a different school district.

      Our daughter says she had maybe two teachers during her K to 12 years in the US public schools that were incompetent, and she probably had about 50 or more teachers during those years. In one case, her 9th grade English teacher (a long term sub) was not doing his job and unruly students ruled the room through chaos. As parents, it was then our responsibility to complain to administration so they would do their job and fix the problem and make up for what she wasn’t learning. I downloaded the state curriculum guide for 9th grade English from the State Department of Education Website and used that as a guide to teach her at home in the evenings and weekends so she wouldn’t miss out.

      The rest of her 9th grade teachers in high school were competent as were all of the other teachers she had in high school. If there was any incompetence it was the parents not doing his or her job as a partner in education.

      All of America’s schools are not the same. The public school system in America is part of the democratic process and school boards, the people that run the schools, are elected the same as all politicians in the US (except the president, who is elected by about 530 people in the Electoral College and not the popular vote).

      There are more than 14,000 different school districts and each of the fifty states has its own department of education. There are national laws that guide education but they do not control every aspect of it and this means some school districts and states are more effective than others at teaching the children. It all depends on the dominate political correctness of a region. In the US, we have extremists at both ends of the spectrum then liberal and conservative moderates. At this time, the Republican Party is ruled by far right extremists called Tea Party Republicans and there is a struggle going on within the GOP between them and Republican moderates to take back control of the GOP. When G. W. Bush was President, the GOP was controlled by neoconservatives. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have several factions in each political party struggling to dominate the politics.

      Any American, if they know what to look for, may find where the best schools are located. It is the law that every public school in America must post a school report card with an amazing amount of data that will tell anyone that knows what to look for the difference between the quality of schools. Because I was a teacher for thirty years, I know what to look for and I taught our daughter how to use that information when she has a family of her own.

      • This is a fascinating story, Lloyd, of your experiences with the school system, and very interesting for me too. Because though I did visit America, and even studied there, this was a long time ago, and at the college level. We too have many different groups that find expression through schools, and I think I’ll write about it soon, because it is so different from how things are done in your country. But I can tell you now, that in a certain part of the population, there is a great admiration for everything American, and I feel that maybe their schools are most like the American public schools… though maybe not as inefficient. Thank you very much for this explanation.

  24. A great read, thank you for sharing.

  25. I believe that a lot of the issues with schooling have to do with parents now a days. Parents are too lax on their kids and try to be their friends. They don’t think their angel could do wrong. So when a child gets a bad grade, the parents blame the teachers, (this is a generalization of course), and kids then lose respect for the teacher. The teacher then, not wanting to deal with said parent again, babies and tries to simply befriend students. Education is like swimming, if you absolutely NEED the little floaty wings, you can have them,(help from teachers and adults, outside of class) but that doesn’t mean the rest of the class has to wait for you to learn to swim without them. Parents and kids, not teachers, are too blame.

    • Hi there, conservativecoug. Your description of the situation sounds a bit amusing. But I agree, that a lot of the problem comes from the family. In this period of time, it is popular to try and maintain a relationship of friendship between parents and children. The problem is that ultimately, the responsibility for the welfare of the children, and their future, is in the hands of the parents. I don’t know whether the parent sees the child as an angel, but often the parent doesn’t want to be seen as a ‘bad guy’. Add to this the fact that in most cases, both parents are preoccupied with work, and the ever increasing amount of single parent families, in many cases there is no source of authority or discipline in the life of the child.

      • I think in regards to not wanting to be the bad guy, parents have tipped the scale of Friend-Parent more towards the friend side. And the sheer amount of single parent households and parents simply having less time on their hands definitely does play a major part. I have seen it however, where a parent blames a teacher for their child failing. Teaching some accountability and responsibility could do wonders for some kids. But then again there are the parents who completely put all the pressure on their kids and are strict about them staying up on their work, and you see those kids burn out as well. It’s all about achieving balance in regards to the parent-child school equation.

  26. I wish we could have that kind of attitude here. Everyone gets trophies and papers and promotions to ever-greater heights of mediocrity. I try to be demanding of my children–in the sense of pushing them to try harder and understand more. They hear from me when they’re wrong, and they know, barring something truly outrageous in the teacher’s behavior, who I will side with if I’m called by another parent or adult regarding bad behavior. I see this in some other parents, here in the US, but taking this stance is difficult when so many parents feel too busy to actually parent and teach their own children. Not to mention, children know from a young age, here, that their parents (and other adults in charge) are under intense scrutiny and pressure not to harm their tender self-esteem. Which flips authority on its head, permanently. I don’t advocate the abuse of children, but forcing adults to handle every child with such delicate care makes it seem as though the schools might as well turn the keys over to the children and let them write their own grades. I’m of the attitude that self-esteem issues from competency. And competency is gained by the method you have outlined here. Thank you for this and for the pictures. They are lovely.

    • Thank you for your comment, CM, There have been great changes in attitudes regarding the bringing up of children in the last fifty or sixty years. At first, parents were seen as being too harsh. Now the pendulum has swung to almost the opposite position. Yet, the children are not satisfied, and all of society is beginning to suffer from a complete lack of standards and discipline. Successful people usually have a measure of self-discipline. But how is the child to learn that quality if he’s constantly pampered by his or her parents? Because of this, I spoke earlier of a social problem. The choice is not abuse or anarchy. And the parent is not really being a friend if he doesn’t prepare his child for the realities of the adult world. Glad you liked the pictures.

  27. Reblogged this on Tying Molecular Knots and commented:
    Reblogging. This is a good read, especially for other parents who only wish some semblance of sanity would return to both parenting and educating children on a larger scale.

  28. Interesting read, thank you!

  29. Interesting. I enjoyed your post.

  30. It is interesting to read your thoughts on education in the west. You make good points and observations, in my opinion. I am a teacher myself, in Sweden however, and have recently begun to observe how much we actually mollycoddle our students. As if we have to meet their every need without question. However that happened, I just can’t understand. A lot of focus has been taken from the education itself and it has, as a result, affected our country’s academic results. And I am not only talking about grades – I am talking about knowledge as well. It is terrible what has happened and I can only hope that it will take a turn for the better soon.

    • Hi J. We have to remember, though, that we’re talking about averages. There are always the good students, and those with families who support education. But the American influence is felt in most of Europe too. And the family unit is changing throughout the west. There are less children, and a greater emphasis is being given to careers these days than in the past. Life styles are changing… and it often seems that education has been left behind. It might be necessary at some point to reassess our attitudes towards the raising of children, and schooling. It might be better for children to live in dormitories as groups of children rather than being left alone at home with just the television, the computer, and the dog. But there would have to be a lot of common agreement and work on how this is done, before such changes could be made.

  31. This is really refreshing and interesting post. Thanks!

  32. Reblogged this on My Beaten Track and commented:
    This is a great post. I was sceptical of what the content of the post would be like because I just came in from the Freshly Pressed – not having been before – and I was pleasantly surprised! Honestly, my education (in Australia) was mostly rubbish, especially my secondary education. There were some really beautiful times which really affected my life, but for the most part, I was alone and received no support at all. I suppose this is where this mollycoddling theory comes from – too often, students were just abandoned or not taught well, and this came as a counter-measure that went too far. Self study is fine, but when you have absolutely no idea or guidance on how to do that, how to approach it, it’s not. The things people are taught these days seem to be useless – as I age, I become more and more disturbed at the amount of people who weren’t taught grammar rules and correct spelling, for example, as I was when I was young (8 years young). Instead, there is a lot of assuming of what is known of the basics, and little fostering and encouraging of the hunger to investigate further, and clever ways to go about it. I remember one time I had to do a self-directed research assignment, and although my teacher was good – one of the best (or at least friendliest) I had in high school, in fact – I had absolutely no idea what was going on or what I had to do. I didn’t even know what my topic was. I don’t remember what eventuated of the project, but I can’t help but think now that learning isn’t so much about acquiring knowledge, as it is about acquiring skills. Sure, knowledge is important – reading, writing, arithmetic and other related language skills is especially important to learn when you’re young – but learning research skills, people skills, dealing with life skills – these are important too, and there’s no way a child is going to learn them if a teacher is kissing their asses in the hope that they won’t complain.

    (And then they have the balls to whine and complain and go on strike when they have better working conditions than people whose lives are at risk on the job. Teaching isn’t a job for anyone – it requires someone with a strong and sharp mind. Unfortunately way too many people complete a teaching degree, not knowing what to really do with their lives but knowing this can get them a career, and they are a failure at being a teacher, even though they succeed in getting a job.)

    P.S. These days, it’s not just teachers who mollycoddle too much. When it comes to all adults and children, it happens far too often. Unfortunately children cannot become adults if they endure no hardship getting there.

    • Thank you for your reblog and your comment, SighYuki. I think you’ve stated the case so well, that I have nothing much to add, except that I think you’re a little hard on the teachers, who have often been put in an impossible situation, in which they get no support from the school administration, nor cooperation from the students.

      • That’s fair. It’s a fault of mine I guess; even when some of my friends were training to be teachers and were having problems with students I found it hard to be truly sympathetic. I’m just too jaded! When I think about it, I guess not everyone is really cut out for being a student either, though we all have to be for some time.

  33. I hope someday you could tell a story about education in Indonesia. Thank You 😉

    • Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about the education in Indonesia. But I would be very interested to learn. Thank you for coming by, Salatiga.

  34. Very interesting and refreshing view. I am very happy you posted this as I think it is a great perspective of what education is and should be. Thank you for taking the time, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I look forward to reading more of your entries.

    • Glad you came by and enjoyed the post, Emahadeo. This is certainly one of the advantages of being freshly pressed. It is an opportunity to meet a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise have met.

  35. You have made some very interesting reflections. Strangely growing up in the Caribbean I felt we were always encouraged to use similar study habits – personal study, emphasis on the student doing his/her part. Also growing up we were always taught to have deep respect for our teachers. They were seen like our parents in school. Over the years there have been many changes – causing us to wonder whether they were all for the best. Students question teachers a lot more – perhaps this reflects the growth of students’ intellectual curiosity, parents increasingly seem to expect that the teachers must do it all on their own – one wonders what happened to the home/school partnership. To me it seems that more of the burden is placed as an expectation on the teacher – if the student is not succeeding, the problem must be the teacher. On the other hand there has been a lot more attempt to understand that individuals learn differently – thus calling for different strategies being used in the classroom and learning becoming a more active experience whereby the student is encouraged to participate in an active process. However there still are occassions where educators resort to rote. A creeping tendency that seems very sad to me is that there seems to be less and less respect for the teacher as an individual deserving of it. All in all a very interesting post, I look forward to following you through IslandScribbler. Thank you.

    • Thank you very much for your visit, IslandScribbler. It is very interesting to hear of the attitudes in your country. I think that globalization is not just an economic phenomenon. In recent years the entire world has become influenced by common fashions and concerns, even though some cultures remain very different from others. I think that learning by rote is going out of style, and I’m not sorry about that. But I expect some great changes in the way people look at education in the next generation. Looking forward to getting to know you.

  36. sharonunleashed

    I don’t know…….I think even the most uninterested student can be engaged if the subject matters reaches their curiosities. I think curiosities can also be born in the classroom without the student having known they would ever ponder anything to do with the subject. I am an adult and I think learning is backward in some respects in our country. Yes, you need the basics, but much past 7th or 8th grade you have the basics. What to do with the the other 4 or 5 years? I saw this video one day of people playing tug of war and the law of physics popped into my mind that says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, I am sitting there pondering, how does anyone win this game. Then I pondered more physics principles like friction, etc and came to my own conclusion. If that video had been show to first year physics students and then the law of physics had been given to them, some of them would have been really curious to know how someone wins that game. They would have sought out the knowledge through questions, experiments, researcdh…whatever. Even if one uninterested student had seen the excitement and wonder in reaction to the student who wanted to know and helped, even a little, in finding the answer…..boom, a whole new door is open to an uninterested student. If you went even futher and found out what that student was interested and in and the last 4 years of high school was a program geared directly to that student and his/her interest, instead of every student taking the “required” classes what a different world we would live in. So, nurturing and letting students know you care about what they are interested in and that you want to help them explore those interests…..yes, I think it is important.

    • I completely agree with your assessment. The teacher can not just ignore the uninterested student. The teacher is there to bring out the best in every student, and if he or she is ignoring so-called”problem” students while catering to the “good” ones than they are not doing their jobs. Every student is capable of learning. Can you really blame a student who is having problems at home, comes to school to learn the events and dates of the revolutionary war and seems to be uninterested and not learning. I certainly would not. If teachers are to educate their children properly they must learn about their students first and foremost and make their best efforts to relate the subject matter to the outside world. Subjects cannot be taught like they exists in a vacuum, or else the student will hate school because he or she feels that we he is learning has no bearing on his or her life. In fact, that is the main reason why even students who do well, do not like school. Why do you think American kids say they can’t wait for summer at the beginning of the school year?

      • sharonunleashed

        I do understaned why kids who are having problems at home and are being abused and no one knows either become the silent recluse and rarely retain anything or they become the trouble maker. I am a social worker and I work in child abuse and neglect. One time when I first met a 16 year old student in a residential facility, he wrote me a poem but would not talk to me. The poem was really good and it expressed his distrust, his fear of losing yet another worker, that I was unwanted because I would only see him as everyone else did, etc. When I say the poem was great, I mean in it had meter it was all things a poem should be. Anyway, once I gained this young man’s trust, he shared this book of poetry with me and told me how he wanted to be a writer. He told me that his teachers told him he needed to focus on learning what was “required.” No one ever nurtured his ability. He lit up when he talked about his poetry. He was smart, he needed someone to take him to the next level in poetry and he never got it. He is in jail now for stealing food because he was homeless and hungry. He was failed by our child protection system and by our education system. I value teachers so much, I just wish they had more autonomy to teach to the needs of each student. I remember my freshman year in college, I had a liturature professor who was a hard nose. He said, if you were ten minutes late to my class, do not come in , you are not welcome. He said it is rude to be late. He had tons of other rules too, but that one stands out. Anyway, the point of bringing him up is that this professor opened the world to me. He recognized what he thought was talent in my writing and he challenged me on every level. He called me out when I did not do my best work and he praised me when thought I had really hit the mark. I will never forget him and am so thankful for him. I just started my blog and I feel like a new person getting to express all the ideas that invade my brain and he inspired that in me. He is a hero to me. Sorry for taking up so much space with this reply. I like your blog and love reading it.

        • Thank you and no problem…I love loong replies. I will be sure to check out your blog as well. Your story is interesting and speaks to me because I had a teacher just like the one in your life ( philosophy of education teacher) who inspired me to change my career path. He used to work with troubled kids who our educational system routinely fails, as you said, and described that kind of moment which you speak of, where he gained this person’s trust, by listening to her and understanding her and letting her know that he was there for her. I do not remember the details, but it was a very moving story. Surprisingly, he said he usually would cry whenever he told that story to previous classes. I was stunned at that admission because it really brought the teacher-student relationship to whole other level than just pure ddominance by the teacher, which is what I think many teachers have to realize… terms of how to bring out the best in their students. Those teachers, who you speak of, that made that student frustrated with the learning process, failed to realize that the student is the center of the educative process….not the material. Both must be connected, and that is what you were able to accomplish which makes you better than them, and a true teacher.

    • Hi there sharonunleashed. I respect your right to an opinion. I have no desire to argue with you. It’s my impression that you have never studied physics. And the example you used, seems in tune with the modern education theories in America. At what age would you like to teach physics students in that manner? On the basis of what I’ve seen in my country, this example would be appropriate at the kindergarten level. Actually, there is not one, but many laws of physics, and it take quite a bit of serious study in order to understand and internalize the basic knowledge required to understand that body of information. Aside from that, one needs fluency in mathematics. Not everyone is built for this. A person wanting to work in animation or dance, or to be a chef in a restaurant, doesn’t have to trouble his head with it. But a person wanting to study this subject shouldn’t expect to be entertained. I agree with you completely, that in the last 4 years of high school, a person should be allowed to study subjects that really interest him.

      • sharonunleashed

        Actually, I have studied physics and understand how Newton’s Laws of motion made a difference in how the world of physics was viewed. I do admit it has been many years. I would propose that in the 7th or 8th grade a child could be exposed to this concept and viewing the tug of war video they could be just as curious about it as a high schooler. Where one student has a deficit in math another student doesn’t and they think it through together. Of course, the teacher is the guide and gives the direction as the questions arise. I agree, not everyone is made for this type of study, but why not expose them so they can decide for themselves. I never thought I would have any desire to learn statistics but in 8th grade when I learned it through an experiment where I did not realize I was learning statistics, my future was definded leading to an unstoppable curiosity. I now have a Master’s Degree in Statistics. With all due respect, the kindergarten comment was not necessary. I think you underestimate students and how exposure to concepts and excited teachers can mold the views of children and help them define what really interests them. I am not bothered that you disagree with me. Niether of us has a lock on all truth and that illistrates further my whole phylosophy, people working together and using each others strengths come to better conclusions and learn from each other. I am strong enough to take any challenge anyone wants to bring my way. I am also strong enough to hear what others have to say and rethink my position if I find merit in their argument. I value challenge and people who have opinions different than mine. I just think you need to be careful of assumptions such as me not having studied physics. If I was someone who cared what others think about me, I would have disregarded anything you had to say after that sentence because it was not true. I think there is a way to disagree without trying to make the other person appear to have no knowledge of what they are speaking about. Despite that, I value your ideas and will ponder what you have had to say.

        • Thank you very much for your reply. I’m very glad that you are able to discuss such a thing with someone who has a different opinion. I apologize if anything I said seemed offensive, but my comment about kindergarten was not meant to tease you, but was a straightforward opinion. I have a grandchild in the 7th grade, and he has studied physics on an adult level, and such an example would be completely inappropriate for him, and he could explain to you right away why such an illustration wouldn’t teach anyone anything about physics. In fact, your choice of the tug of war is what made me think you hadn’t studied the subject. And again, it wasn’t a sarcastic remark, nor meant to belittle you in any way. I am glad that you found what you needed by way of the school system, and that you have the pleasure of working in a field you enjoy. As I’ve said, I come from a different world, with very different standards, so sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand the American way of doing things. In my country, by the age of 9, children are able to apply themselves to their studies with noteworthy self discipline. If a child doesn’t care for academic studies, he is able to learn in an alternative plan which doesn’t make that many demands of him.

          • sharonunleashed

            I beg to differ, tug of war has everything to do with physics:

            1. When the team are equal in pull and the rope remains fixed, that’s because the forces on either team are equal but opposite; so they cancel out and the rope does not move. That is, the net force on the system is = 0; so there is no acceleration and the teams and rope do not move. That’s Newton’s 2nd and 3rd Laws of motion. Very fundamental physics.

            2. When one team prevails over the other and it pulls the losers over the centerline, that’s Newton’s 2nd and 3rd Laws as well. The difference is now the net force 0; so there is acceleration towards the winning team.

            3. Once the whole thing, teams and rope, start moving towards the winning team side, the movement will become steady state, no more acceleration, but still moving at a constant velocity. That’s Newt’s Law 1 about inertia and needing force to change it.

            This is an interesting one because it says once the winning team gets the losing team moving, the winning team can slack off a bit so that its force just matches the losing teams force. That is, the only way the losing team can stop losing is to exert more force than the winning team’s pull to cause the motion to decelerate and hopfully change the motion vector towards it.

            Bottom line, all of Newton’s laws of motion are invoked during a tug of war. And just to throw in a bonus law, Newton’s law of gravitational attraction describes why none of the teams floats out into outer space.

            • Sharon, I hope that on your own blog, you’ll stay forever unleashed… But on this blog… at least on this post… you’ve had your say, and thank you. But that was enough. You’re welcome to make another comment on the next post. Thank you.

  37. Fantastic!!! “The business of study is not an emotional experience, but an intellectual accomplishment” I just moved on with this quote, i have just started my carrier as a teacher in engg. college your experience that you have showed up in this post will help me a lot.Thnx.

  38. I hear the “average” American parental attitude toward education creeping into some of the comments here.

    In the US, we have allowed the average student to live in a fantasy world where they expect the teacher to make everything interesting for every student no matter what a student’s skill level or interests are or his or her learning modality, while in the work world it doesn’t matter if you are entertained or motivated. It does not matter if you are bored. If you don’t do the job and do it right, you get fired. That reality has not changed and I doubt that it will ever change.

    I read a survey once that said 80% of workers are not happy with their jobs. Too bad.

    Ignoring reality, the average American parent expects all students to be happy and motivated at school all the time and it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that happens or he has to carry the burden of blame when the student does not show improvement on standardized tests.

    With all of the responsibility on the teacher’s shoulders, over half of my students never did the homework or read the assigned stories from the lit book. Few studied for tests or quizzes. Many did not bother to bring paper, pen, pencil or textbook to class. They expected the teacher to have it all there on demand. If the teacher didn’t have a brand new spare pencil or pen to loan, students complained. Since the schools did not have the money to provide an endless supply of paper, pens and pencils, then the teachers, as underpaid as they still are, would have to use their money.

    However, I refused to do that and heard many complaints because the only spare pens and pencils in my class were the ones I picked off the ground and tossed in a box for students to use. Some students would point at my new pen that I used and say I should give them that instead of the used pens or pencils in the box. Some students even walked up to my desk and took one of my pens or pencils without asking, which led to disruptions as I went after my pen or pencil. Eventually, I had to keep all my pens, paper and pencils out of sight.

    Instead, children should approach school as a job and it is the student’s responsibility to learn no matter if the teacher is a boring drudge, a dictator, a clown in a three-ring circus or a stand up comedian, which many of us had to become to keep the interest of as many students as possible.

    It is exhausting work for teachers and since many American children watch way too much TV the average attention span is programmed to last about 12 minutes—the time between commercial breaks—and teachers have to plan our lessons to shift every 10 to 15 minutes because a lesson that ran for an hour might bore a student who then starts to talk to friends or play video games on hidden devices that were not supposed to be on campus in the first place.

    • your perspective on education is troubling. it is the teacher’s responsibility to connect the subject matter to student’s lives. that is the only manner in which true learning can take place or else of course students will ignore you. For example, if you have a kid whose having troubles at home and he or she comes to school and all he or she is learning is the dates and events of the revolutionary war, you think the student is gonna care about that? Relate history to the student’s life experience. Indeed history is just that. It is human experience. Question your students. Make them think and reflect on how the subject matter could impact their own lives. Its not about standardized tests and we have seen the failures of rote learning and standardized tests in the past 12-15 years with NCLB and Race to the Top. Your outlook is very negative, and how could you say that the student should feel any responsibility to learn if the teacher sucks. then the teacher is not doing a proper job and should be reprimanded. Without learning there is no teaching going on. And the teacher should care about that. You let teachers off way to easy. Did you ever try altering your methods? I had teachers who were very strict and overbearing and they turned the entire class off, because they make you think they are better than you. Education is like a conversation. If I were having a conversation with that type of person, I would just walk away. Cause he is basically saying “What I’m saying to you is so much more important than what you could ever say back” I did fine on tests, and ok in the class but I didn’t learn anything. The end result was just a grade, and that’s the problem with standardized tests. You can win, without learning anything. My SATS taught me nothing. I did good. I went to college. Of course, the student must take initiative, but don’t act like teachers have no culpability. Every student is capable of learning. Every human being wants to learn. Our whole life is a learning process. Our whole life is an education. Whether most of it happens inside school or outside is a different matter.

      • ReflectiveThinking,

        You said, “Your perspective on education is troubling.”

        Sorry to disappoint you, but I was considered one of the best English/writing/journalism teachers in the school district where I taught for thirty years, and I have evidence that appeared in a local newspaper while I was still teaching to support that claim (the link to a pdf copy of that newspaper piece is provided below)

        In fact, my English students, even hard-core gang members, won awards in state-wide poetry contests, and in a regional short-story contest presented by the Los Angeles Times Newspaper, two of my students placed and were published in a Los Angeles Times magazine supplement. Less than 30 students placed in that contest out of 10,000 submissions from public schools in Los Angeles County.

        As for my high school journalism class, you may read of its accomplishments by clicking the following link and read what my students said to the reporter of a local newspaper (once you reach that page, you may have to scroll down to read it).

        One year, the district where I worked also submitted my name for California’s Gold Apple Award (every school district may submit one name), which is awarded to the state’s teacher of the year. I didn’t get it. Another teacher from another district did. There are more than 1,000 public school districts in the state of California. The competition to become teacher of the year in California is tough.

        In addition, the results on annual standardized tests that measure the growth of students in every teachers’ classes revealed, year after year, that my students outperformed (on average) every other English teacher in writing by a wide margin.

        You have no idea what type of teacher I was in the classroom. I am a former US Marine and Vietnam Veteran and I was tough with my students and demanded that they perform and behave in my classroom but that does not mean I was not an effective teacher because I did not fit what you believe a teacher should be. My tough-love style of teaching worked and I designed lessons for every possibly learning modality students might have.

        For example: One year, during parent conferences, one mother asked her child in front of me, “Is he the teacher of the class that is so noisy you can’t think.” The student answered, “No mom, in his class it is quieter than it is in Church on Sunday.”

        A second example: In the 1990s, I ran into a former student and his mother on a college campus. The former student introduced me to his mother and told her that he hated me because of the difficulty of the work that I required my students to do when he was a student in my ninth grade English class, but then he thanked me because he said when he reached college, he was the only student in his first-year English composition class in college that knew what to do for the first essay. In fact, he said he was the only student that understood what the college professor wanted because I taught my students what they would need when they reached college. I did not pamper them. He said none of his other English teachers in tenth, eleventh or twelfth grade challenged him as I did. I challenged all my students that way.

        I also read in a comment that someone thought I was inferring that the school board members were stupid because they were housewives with only high school degrees or bread truck drivers. I did not say they were “stupid” but they were “ignorant” and knew very little about the complexities of teaching in the public schools. However, decisions based on that ignorance had a major impact on what teachers were doing in the classroom and the teachers (often ignored by these housewives an bread truck drivers) are the ones that are the experts in education and how the brain works and a child learns.

        For comparison, imagine a bread-truck diver telling his brain or heart surgeon how to conduct the surgery that might save the bread-truck drivers life and the heart surgeon must do as he is told or lose his job and if he does what he is told and still fails and the bread-truck driver dies, the heart or brain surgeon still loses his job.

    • As I’m sure you understand, Lloyd, I come from a very different world. I have read some of the ‘modern theory’ on education, but have not really gotten to know the students. Some of the responses here are providing me with an education on the subject. I have seen the fantasy, but it’s not yet clear to me, whether this is justification after the fact, or ideology. I don’t believe in forcing students to learn. If they’re not interested, they can always find jobs as cooks, waiters, baby sitters, or working in a laundry. There is room for everyone. Your story of the pencils and pens makes me think you’re a great idealist or a saint. I don’t think I would have lasted very long in that sort of environment. Though I too became something of a stand up comedian in order to attract the continued attention of my students.

  39. You shared many good insights about teaching based on your own experiences. I think the best teachers have a human touch and their respect for their students is obvious. Students, I think, respond to that and tend to put forth more effort. I always sense that undercurrent of respect in your writings, so I’m sure it comes through in your teaching.

    I am happy that you were Freshly Pressed, so that more people can read your blog.

    • Thank you, yearstricken. I’m impressed by our ability to get to know one another, even in the limited conditions of blogging. I have always had a great respect for my students, and I was treated very sweetly, with respect and love. Thank you re Freshly Pressed. I am still in the process of learning that phenomenon.

  40. Hello,
    Thank you for this post. I am an educator in States and it drives me crazy at times when my job is seen as a coddler and babysitter. If I have to fail a students who has done nothing I am questioned (I have to keep all my paperwork and make sure everything has been done). Parents and their students are no longer held accountable for their own learning. They do not believe in asking questions to learn more or in doing more than is absolutely necessary to pass. And it is even worse in the Southern states (I taught in New New England before moving south and I saw a HUGE difference and it wasn’t for the better).

    Education is so important, but it is not just about what a student learns; it is also about the journey and learning how to ask questions and think for ones self rather than just believe what is heard and told. Critical thinking is and communication are the best tools can teach my students, but they also have to be held accountable for their educations as do their parents.

    • On the whole, I agree with you, Sarab. One of the most critical jobs a school or a teacher has, is to teach the tools necessary to continue the process of learning. In a normal teaching situation, there should be no need to seduce the student into learning. It has to be something he or she wants. From what I see, America is heading for some great problems with the younger generation. And if this keeps up, I have no doubt that there will soon be an alternative educational system.

  41. Not every one who is born with a large muscular body and fast reflexes becomes a star on the playing field

  42. You present some interesting points. I’m not sure I agree with school being a solely intellectual institution–children need to be nurtured in order to learn. But, nurture in balance is important. The teacher/instructor/parent must know when and how much to pull back along the way, letting the child take on more and more of his own responsibility for encountering and evaluating the world around him.

    • Hi Elaine. I suppose that age makes a big difference. If we’re talking about little children, then there is a need to sell them on the subject, to a certain degree. But if you were taking your child to a barber, you wouldn’t expect the barber to go to great pains to convince your child to sit still so as to cut his hair. Education is a great privilege and an important experience for a young person. And if 20 young people are sitting in a classroom, and there is no discipline, and the teacher is expected to convince each child that he has something to gain by learning, we’re not going to get very far. Part of the role of the parent is to explain the importance of this opportunity, and what might be missed if the child does not cooperate. Finally, if the child has no desire to study, I do not believe in forcing him. In that case, the parents have to take responsibility for the welfare and the future of their child.

  43. Wow, Shimon, what interest you’ve stirred with this post! I enjoyed reading it and your points—as usual—are very well made. The many long comments and responses told stories themselves. I don’t know that I could add any more to the mix, so I’ll just say again that I enjoyed, it! —George

    • Thank you very much, George. I had the opportunity to read some American literature on education, and expressed my reaction, and seemingly, this did press a button for some people. Coming from a very different society, I suppose my viewpoint is somewhat different too, and I’ve learned something from the many responses. Glad you enjoyed it.

  44. You have an interesting post here. Reading your post is like learning, you are truly a teacher. I like your POVs, observations and charming-detailed words. 🙂

  45. I am a young western teacher, and I think that your post is spot on. We’re at times chided for not making our students feel comfortable and for not rewarding them for doing nothing. I feel as though I’ve learned most of what I do as a teacher from the teachers who stand out in my mind the most. They are the ones who challenged me, who didn’t always give me the grade I thought I deserved. They pushed me to grow. That it what I want to do for my students.

    • Thank you very much for the feedback, Fatima. It seems that there are some unrealistic expectations in the west, when it comes to schooling. But there always are exceptions, on the good side as well as the bad. I wish you success and satisfaction in your teaching. I am sure that happens too.

  46. Gosh this has created an interesting debate Shimon. Fascinating reading both your words and my fellow comenters.
    I see a few things Shimon, and my only real expereince has been in the west – that times have changed and the emphasis isn’t on the learning it’s on the passing of exams. Such a pity that there seems little emphasis on the pleasure of learning, the sheer joy of finding out about the world and how it ticks.
    I have to say one of the best educations I ever recieved was from travel – but that’s an entirely different kind of learning!

    • I learned a lot from travel as well, Claire. And I agree that the educational system has changed a lot in the last couple of generations. Maybe people are looking for different things than they once were. My models were always people who wanted to know and understand… not those looking for a good job. I don’t like to visit places that attract great crowds in any case. Thanks for coming by. Always good to hear from you.

  47. Pingback: thoughts on education | the human picture | Autistic Information

  48. Nice post

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